The results for the 116th annual National Audubon Society Christmas Bird Counts, held in December 2015 and January 2016, are complete. This year we present the results for 67 Ohio counts, down from last year’s 69 (not counting circles which are mostly in an adjoining state).
It is obvious, but still important, to note the impact of weather on CBCs. December 2015 saw temperatures six degrees higher than the 20th century average. Given the warm weather, some counts had trouble finding species that might usually be expected; some inland counts struggled to find waterfowl, in particular. On the other hand, compilers noted that Killdeer, Hermit Thrush, and both kinglets were fairly easy to find, as was Winter Wren, a species reported from half of Ohio’s 88 counties on eBird during December and January, and well-represented in CBC tallies. A few birds we don’t typically expect to find, but which are of course possible, on CBCs include American Bittern (two on the Chandlersville count), Great Egret (Firelands and Cincinnati counts), Green Heron (Cuyahoga Falls), and Virginia Rail (Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge). Also of note were six species of shorebirds (Spotted Sandpiper being of particular interest for the Caesar Creek and Ashland counts and Greater Yellowlegs at Mohican State Forest), and six species of warbler: Orange-crowned, Yellow-rumped, Pine, Palm (present in unusually high numbers according to the reports), Common Yellowthroat (Western Hamilton County and Ragersville), and Wilson’s (Mohican State Forest). Clearly, the warm weather didn’t push away or deter from staying a number of birds that would normally be expected to be absent from our area or present in smaller numbers.
Also of note, 28 species were reported as first count records this CBC season. The “star” of the count period would be the Kelp Gull, which countless observers saw and which made it onto the Cuyahoga Falls tally sheet. It is of course a first count record as well as a noteworthy first state record.
While we like to stress the citizen science aspect of the CBC, it is no secret that compilers and counters love the baseline species tally. And there’s no shame in that. If you’re going to walk in the rain and snow and sleet all day, counting as best you can every Northern Cardinal, White-throated Sparrow, American Crow, and European Starling, you’ve earned the right to find out what the final tally, the total species count, turned out to be. Toledo led the state with 101 species. Wilmot reported 88. Cincinnati, Cuyahoga Falls, and Western Hamilton County had 85; Gypsum, Mansfield, and Millersburg had 84 each; and Cleveland, Lake Erie Islands, Ottawa N.W.R., and Wooster all broke the 80 level. There’s not necessarily a correlation between the number of birds on a list and the quality of the count, and reporting a hard-earned, honest, let’s say, 50 birds, is better than reporting a number of squirrely sightings. For the 116th CBC season, Ohio birders seemed to have found what was there and didn’t find what wasn’t. There are a few unusual reports that still need documentation, but most rarities and unusual sightings were properly documented.
A count needs counters, of course, and compilers are grateful for the birders who volunteer their time and effort. Cuyahoga Falls increased their participation by one over that of the 115th CBC, leading Ohio with 166. Wilmot had 90 participants. Lakewood and Ragersville had 74 each. Anecdotal accounts from a few compilers I talked with suggested turnout was lower than expected for some counts, with weather and Christmas falling on a Friday being cited as possible causes. As is the case with finding the birds on a CBC, the number of birders who participate each year is influenced by weather, timing, and luck.